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...this June 6th to remember what it means to be a progressive Democrat. What's possible. The nature of courage, and the necessity of hope.

Today is the 46th anniversary of an event that changed everything in American history -- the death of Robert F. Kennedy. He died at 1:44 a.m. PDT June 6, 1968 the day after he won the California presidential primary for the Democratic nomination for President.

I was 16 years old in 1968. I've been a Democrat all my life, and an amateur historian as well. I've spent many hours pondering RFK. One of my favorite books -- by far the best biography -- is "Robert Kennedy -- His Life" by Evan Thomas. Please take a moment and consider just what a turning point this was, how history might have been different had he lived.

 

Here's how I think of RFK in history. Yes, I'm postulating...but tell me if what I say resonates with your take on 'what might have been.'

• In November of 1968, Richard Nixon beats a very weak candidate, Hubert Humphrey, by 1/10th of 1 point. If RFK lives, he gets the Democratic nomination and mops the floor with Nixon. RFK becomes President.

• No Nixon, no "Southern Strategy" to strip white blue collar voters from the Democratic Party. Ponder this -- two pallbearers at the RFK funeral were Richard Daley and Tom Hayden. Only RFK could hold the entire New Deal coalition together. The "fracturing of America" so brilliantly described in Rick Pearlstein's "Nixonland" doesn't happen.

• No Nixon, no 6 more years of the Vietnam War. I believe RFK would have ended the war a quickly as possible. 20+ thousand Americans don't die in Southeast Asia. The war doesn't continue to tear the country apart. The healing begins sooner rather than later.

• No Nixon, no Watergate -- another divisive catastrophe for America. RFK most likely serves for 8 years. If RFK ends the war in Vietnam and holds the New Deal coalition together, guess what? NO REAGAN. No Reagan, no 'resurgent right'...and neither Bush gets elected...

Yes, a lot of ifs, but...the most disheartening event of my civic life was the Nixon Presidency -- specifically the way Nixon used the courageous advances in Civil Rights under LBJ to deliberately split the country in two for naked political gain, encouraging one half -- older, whiter, blue collar, Southern/Western -- to hate on the other half. Just about every toxic element of American politics today comes from that moment. What started with Nixon amplified under Reagan and created the opening for callow demagogues like New Gingrich to exploit the politics of hatred and division.

No RFK assassination, No Nixon, No Reagan, No repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, No Rush Limbaugh, No Fox News...you can string this out as far as you want. My point is that if the first domino doesn't fall, the rest don't fall either.

I've read all the biographies of RFK, and every history of the 1960's. What's most important about RFK is that -- like Lincoln -- a key to his character is that he CHANGED. Early in life, he was his brother's "enforcer." He "crossed the line" many times as JFK's Attorney General...and he also provided the counsel to his brother that prevented the United States from becoming a dust bunny during the Cuban Missile Crisis. After his brother's assassination, he withdrew from public life. He underwent a profound change, emerging with the same toughness but putting that toughness to work for progressive causes -- civil rights, farmworker rights, the elimination of poverty, and an end to the war in Vietnam.

Robert F. Kennedy was a fierce, noble progressive warrior in the battle to create a better, more just society. Ponder his words today:    

Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total; of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.
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Comment Preferences

  •  No Southern Strategy? (0+ / 0-)

    A completely different GOP!  Without the idiocracy that is borne by the Southern Strategy, the GOP would be without the anti-science, anti-history, anti-education, anti-government, anti-compromise, Faux Noise groups that make up today's Republican Party.

    Yes, it really makes you wonder why all of the idiots with guns seem to target good people and politicians who want to make a difference.  

    Only John Hinckley, Jr. seems to have gone after a right-winger - Ronald Reagan - and he missed, and shot the press agent.

    Voters should select people to represent them in their government. People in government should not select people who may vote!

    by NM Ray on Fri Jun 06, 2014 at 03:07:01 PM PDT

  •  Oh what a wonderful counterfactual world and a (0+ / 0-)

    very real one.  The RFK assassination coming right after the MLK assassination was devastating, and pretty much ruined my college graduation in 1968.  Also no Kent State, no student takeovers of colleges in 1970 (it wouldn't have been necessary).
    Thanks for the reminder of what might have been and has been in some other alternate universes.

    O Jungens, ich will doch gar kein Mensch sein (Jimmy Mahoney in Mahagonny by Brecht/Weill)

    by richardvjohnson on Fri Jun 06, 2014 at 03:19:28 PM PDT

  •  I'm Afraid Nixon & Crew Were Their Own Movement (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wruckusgroink

    not well integrated with the Birchers etc. who were creating the modern rightwing revolution at least several years before Nixon's election.

    In any case all the forces and those organizing mainly out of sight in that time would still have been at work, so it's interesting to muse on what would've happened given an RFK Presidency.

    Even before that, I wonder how a Chicago Democratic Convention would've gone with a living RFK that year and let's say he's reasonably sure to become the nominee when the convention opens.

    There'd be a Tom Hayden essay I'd like to read, if he hasn't written it long ago.

    So Vietnam is actively negotiated and begins to wind down directly in 69 and 70. There's no Cambodia incursion, Spring of 1970 is known mainly for the drama of Apollo 13.

    But Reagan is already a couple years into governing California and started the Republican wrecking ball swinging, beginning immediately with state higher education support. The Bircher/wingers and their backers are still intrigued.

    The 1971 Powell Memo, seems very likely would still have been written, maybe a year or two earlier given a commie Democrat in the WH to run out the 1960's, and the Heritage Foundation & some others are still set up, also maybe earlier. Reagan still tried for the 1968 Presidential run and he'd be sure to try again.

    There being no Republican catastrophe of Watergate, I have to wonder if Reagan would've been competitive by 76 or maybe even 72.

    What of the Republican progressives of that time, absent a Nixon and Watergate? Could they have expanded their hold on the Republicans, or does the rightwing revolution persist and maybe begin to blossom earlier with less shame on the Republicans, plus the Dixiecrats being enraged by voting rights and integration.

    Thing about the Democrats is, what advances might RFK's Admin have brought? Keeping the Great Society going longer, and maybe expanding? What of LBJ's abortive efforts at addressing Black urban poverty and other situational ills they faced? Could RFK have made some advances there we can't easily imagine?

    With no need to fund a ruinous fruitless war, maybe he maintains or even expands his brother's legacy with scientific exploration and colonizing of the Moon.

    And without exploding war costs from 68 into the early 70's, maybe we dont' squabble with OPEC over oil prices, and there are no oil shocks.

    Too bad it's Friday night. There must be a month of great diaries that could branch out of this question, and a few years of PhD theses to boot.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Jun 06, 2014 at 03:44:18 PM PDT

    •  Wow! Thanks for the Extensive Rumination... (0+ / 0-)

      Great questions all. My feeling (as expressed in the diary) is that a successful RFK administration keeps the right-wing genie bottled up and marginalized.

      Nixon put the entire country "in play." He was an absolute genius at dividing people and introducing division, hatred and paranoia into the body politic. We've never recovered. In fact, the divisions are getting worse. Now there's a very effective propaganda machine (Fox News) wholly dedicated to throwing gasoline on the fire of partisan vitriol.

  •  thanks for this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    3rock

    Bobby could have changed the world.  I think now, so many years later that he would have been a much greater president than his brother.  His swing on Civil Rights alone, would have changed the entire face of this nation.  We were robbed and are still paying the price.

    sometimes the dragon wins

    by kathy in ga on Fri Jun 06, 2014 at 04:14:28 PM PDT

    •  Agreed (0+ / 0-)

      Bobby -- especially after the assassination of his brother -- was a much deeper thinker, and much more committed progressive. He knew the stakes were sky-high. JFK wouldn't have risked his political capital marching with Cesar Chavez. The tragedy is that RFK might have been the transformative President his brother wanted to be, but wasn't.

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